One hundred fifty women leaders from over 40 cities across North America and Israel followed their passions and brought their gifts to the OU Women’s Initiative Leadership Summit in Eatontown, New Jersey. Collectively, they lead over 150 organizations, holding founding director, executive director, committee chair and board positions. These women represent diverse communities, ages, hashkafic views, and professions, but each one is a “leader [who] make[s] something happen,” each impacting the community in a meaningful way, dedicating time, energy and funds to the klal.
Why did they come? To join the unique OU Women’s Initiative community of leaders. To meet each other, collaborate and create a network of women supporting each other. To learn with and from each other and to take advantage of this unique professional development opportunity.
As Tema Klausner, President, World Emunah, who flew in from Israel, wrote: “It wasn’t the professionalism of all the presenters and workshops, or the food, or the venue, that put you over the top, it was the atmosphere you created. Was there anyone who was too shy to meet their neighbor, share their story, open themselves up to new friendships? NO! And that was incredible.” This atmosphere was embraced by women even before they entered the hotel. Leah Lighman, Lawrence, NY, posting on the summit chat, invited women who were arriving at the hotel on Sunday, to go out for dinner and meet each other before the program began. Ten women who never met, from ten cities, of different backgrounds and ages, enjoyed dinner together at a local restaurant.
Monday morning began with an inspiring keynote lecture by Rivka Ravitz, former Chief of Staff to Reuven Rivlin, Israel’s tenth president. Mrs. Ravitz recounted the challenges she faced meeting President Biden, the Pope and President Putin and how she remained steadfast “in her faith” her faith in each situation she encountered. She shared her personal story of raising twelve children while maintaining a high-profile role in government.
The morning sessions focused on “You as a Leader,” where women were encouraged to look at themselves as leaders and examine their organizations from a bird’s eye view. Sessions included discussions on leading through organizational growth while staying true to the organization’s mission and maintaining its culture, intentionally establishing trust as a basis for organizational success, a panel focused on the art of productive nonprofit boards and finding an ideal leadership persona through The Six Working Geniuses, a new leadership model. “It was wonderful to learn “tricks of the trade,” tips, and real content, as well as listen to words of encouragement and chizuk from expert not-for-profit professionals and lay leaders.” said Nomi Rotblat, co-chair of the OU Women’s Initiative.
Through a carefully designed seating plan for lunch, the OU Women’s Initiative brought together women involved in similar initiatives in different cities across the country. Women running Bikur Cholim initiatives sat at one table, another table connected sisterhood presidents programming for women in their diverse communities and yet a third table introduced Sister to Sister local coordinators from different cities who had never met. Joy Sklar, of Bergenfield, NJ was seated with Tzivia Weiss of Houston, TX as they are each working to connect the various chesed efforts in their cities – finding ways to collaborate, share resources and for both the community leadership and community members to know what services are available to them. Joy spoke with the RCBC and worked with the Jewish Link to publish the Bergen County chesed initiatives page in our paper. Joy and Tzivia spent hours sharing ideas and scheduled meetings over the next few weeks to continue exchanging ideas and experiences.
Miriam Greenspan, co-chair of the OU Women’s Initiative, sat with a woman from the Satmar community who runs an organization for the social and emotional development of teens and is a Taharas Hamishpacha educator. “I was struck by the fact that we come from two different communities with two totally different hashkafas yet the human issues that she deals with are no different from the human issues that we face in our community” said Miriam.
The afternoon focused on “You and Your Team.” Marooned!, an experiential program led by the OU HR staff, challenged women to evaluate their communication skills and approaches to communication with their teams. They then moved to sessions addressing communication, crafting messages, feedback and leading effective meetings. Women also had the opportunity to treat themselves and listen to shiurim presented by Stacey Goldman, Leslie Ginsparg Klein and Liat Mayerfeld.
Throughout the summit, women had the opportunity to network with each other in a beautiful atrium and to sign up for “Pitch Perfect,” an opportunity to meet one-on-one with Deena Fuchs, a seasoned foundation professional, who provided feedback on their public narrative, pitch deck and fundraising strategy.
Relaxation and socializing is something women often do not prioritize for themselves, so Monday evening’s program encouraged women to “sit back and relax,” through exercise, private swim and painting with Nikki Sausen of New Milford, NJ, who runs Paint With Me!
Tuesday morning’s program, “You, Your Team and Your Community,” began with intense 30–minute sessions addressing fundraising, philanthropy, social media, volunteer retention, legal considerations, finance fundamentals and crafting messages at each stage of an organization’s growth. Each presenter, a leading expert in her field, provided high level content, innovative approaches and practical takeaways.
The afternoon provided a unique space for women to draw on the skills they learned and relationships they formed over the two days. Women joined roundtable discussions, brainstorming together about common leadership challenges and learning about successful endeavors shared by eight summit participants. It was here that they applied what they learned to what they do. The OU Women’s Initiative team stressed that these conversations were “beginnings” and expressed hope that they will continue over the next months and years.
Shira Isenberg, of Bergenfield, NJ, led a discussion about board participation, successful fundraising and capital campaign strategies which she developed and tailored to each institution. Within 24 hours after the summit, she had spent hours on the phone and arranged meetings with women from Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Nevada and Houston.
Rebbetzin Dr. Adina Shmidman concluded the summit with a message of encouragement and praise to this incredible group of talented women who dedicate so much to their communities. “On behalf of your communities – I am giving you a big hug for all you have done and all you will continue to do.” She stressed that this summit expanded a national OU Women’s Initiative community of leaders, who together will ‘make’ even more ‘things happen.’”
Adeena Mayerfeld, of Teaneck, is Assistant Director of the OU Women’s Initiative.